I spent a long time thinking about this topic, how to approach it, and how to write about it. I worried about whether or not I would offend people, or if what I am saying makes sense. In the end, the only relationship and experience I can write about is between my mother and I. I hope that this letter can help people, particularly white Americans with children of color, understand more about how one transnational, transracial, Chinese American adoptee feels about the state of our nation.
We just finished our conversation about Charlottesville, and it was a lot. Speaking about race with you can be exhausting and even a waste of time. It can be frustrating, especially when you tell me that I shouldn’t get mad. But, how can I not? How can I not be angry and hurt and betrayed when there are white supremacists that walk through the streets telling me that my life does not matter. How can I not fear for my life when there are men and women who say that I do not belong in their America when I did not come here by choice? How do I say that another white person is who brought me to their America? You brought me here.
You tell me it’s better to pick and choose my battles, and that people will not listen to me when I am angry. This is probably true. As a woman, as an Asian American woman, my voice will often go unheard more often than yours. This is why I need you to speak up for me. I need you to take up some of the battles for me. And sometimes, you have. When I was younger, you told me a story about how when you went to church with me when I was a baby; a pastor had said the word “Gook.” You told me how that shook you to your core. You said that in church, it was one of the only spaces you felt you could let your guard down. You told me that space was violated. A few weeks later, you interrupted a church meeting, with all white men, and said that you had gotten a pastor a present. That present was a dictionary, and you told him that he should learn better words and that he should be ashamed.
When I brought this up, you looked ssurprizedthat I remembered. I also remembered how a few months ago, you told your older friends that they shouldn’t say Indians, but rather Native Americans. It is moments like these, that means the most to me. It is moments like these, which are what make me proud most proud of you. However, there are also moments when I am ashamed. You will make comments, intentionally or not, that are often racist.
One thing that has affected me my entire life has been your comments about the color of my skin. You would joke and say, “you look like you have been working in the rice paddy fields all day.” You would tell me that you ruined my skin and that I used to be a cream color. When I came home for the first time after my semester in the North East, you had commented how light I had gotten. You expressed happiness, but I thought that I looked sick. I didn’t believe that I radiated the way I did when I was out in the sun.
Having you, a white American whose ancestry reaches back to the American Revolution, as my mom has taught me a lot of things, and I know that I have shown you a lot of things. You now listen to what I have to say and take into consideration about the world around us. You use the correct pronouns for my friends, and you catch yourself when you’re about to say something homophobic. I don’t expect you to march in the streets. But I do expect you to talk to your friends. I expect you not only stand up for me; I expect you to stand up to any form of bigotry. I love you, and you are my hero in so many ways. Probably in more ways than I have ever articulated to you, but this does not mean I cannot be critical of you as you are critical of me. You are my mom, and you will always be my mom. Do better. Be better.
Your radical little girl